STEM jobs on the rise in Maine

Maine leaders and educators are predicting that by 2024, more jobs centered on science, technology, engineering and math will be available in Maine – especially for women, who currently make up 70 percent of the state’s minimum wage workers.

According to a report by the Maine STEM Council, STEM-related careers are expected to increase by nearly 9 percent, compared to non-STEM jobs at 1.5 percent, in the next 10 years.

The report, issued in December 2014, outlines the state’s goals for improving STEM education and Maine’s STEM workforce. The mission of the Maine STEM Council, which was established in 2011, is, in part, to develop “strategies for enhancing science, technology engineering, and mathematics education from prekindergarten through postsecondary education.”

The council also aims to develop initiatives, both in and out of schools, that promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, according to Jan Mokros, a member of the STEM Council and senior project director of the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance.

In 2007, a public-private partnership called the Maine STEM Collaborative was developed to respond to Maine’s need for creating a larger, higher-quality STEM workforce. Since then, it has sponsored three bi-annual STEM Summits that aim to give participants an appreciation for the role that STEM education plays in careers and everyday life.

The most recent summit was held in March 2014. Mokros said the summits help to identify the state’s goals around STEM, including the council’s No. 1 goal – to “get the Legislature to enact or pass the Next Generation Science Standards.”

According to the Maine Department of Education, Maine is one of 26 states that is “taking the lead” in developing Next Generation Science Standards, which are “a new set of academic standards that will define the science concepts and content students will need to learn to be successful in the workforce, economy and society of the coming decades.”

“For the very first time, engineering will become part of the curriculum K-12,” Mokros said. “We still have a real dearth of women engineers. Right now, about 12 percent of engineers (in Maine) are women. In all other STEM fields the figure is higher than 25 percent. Engineering and computer science have remained the two areas (that) women simply are not going into.”

In its report, the Maine STEM Council identifies five goals, which include improving STEM achievement and interest among students in grades K-12.

In addition to getting the state to adopt the Next Generation Standards, the STEM Council is recommending that the state require elementary math teachers, as well as those teaching science, technology and engineering, to pass a three-credit math course or demonstrate proficiency in current content as part of a six-credit recertification process.

“We want to try to bring teachers’ knowledge up to date,” said Mokros. “The (Next Generation) standards are really going beyond science of the early 1900s, and getting us up to teaching what is really important in STEM fields right now,” she added.

Other statewide goals include increasing the number of students completing post-secondary degrees or certificates in STEM, aligning secondary and postsecondary training with the state’s workforce needs, and better promoting STEM education and careers statewide.

It also plans to broaden opportunities for “underrepresented populations,” such as low-income and minorities, including females. But according to Mokros, the STEM Council has yet to identify ways to achieve this goal.

“There’s a new report out from the American Association of University Women that says 80 percent of STEM jobs (within the next five years) will be in engineering and computing. And yet those are the two areas we have the least participation by women,” Mokros said.

Based on 2013-2014 statewide test results, a large portion of K-12 students in Maine is not meeting current science or math standards. In addition, many of Maine’s college students are dropping out of STEM majors. Of the 28 percent of students who chose a four-year STEM major in 2003-2004, about 48 percent of them ended up leaving their majors.

Only 27 teachers in Maine are offering courses related to computer science that are not part of the regular high school curriculum.

“There were actually more teachers teaching computer science in Maine 20 years ago,” Mokros said. “As the curriculum has emphasized reading and math – No Child Left Behind goals – teachers (haven’t had) time to incorporate anything else.”

According to Mokros, within the next 10-15 years STEM will make up the majority of careers in Maine.

“If you’re a writer, you’re going to have to use a lot of new technology,” she said. “It’s not just for a select few, it’s for everybody. Almost all careers are moving in that direction. You name a career and I can tell you why STEM is important,” she said.

“Another important goal is for us to publicize to the public why STEM is important for their kids, whether their kids are going to go on to become engineers are go on to become artists.”

To date there are nearly a dozen contests and competitions in Maine that focus on STEM. In early May, a few Maine students earned prizes for various independent research projects at the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, in Pittsburgh, Pa., including one female, Paige Brown of Bangor High School, who won a full tuition scholarship to Drexel University.

STEM jobs are important to growing Maine’s economy, and are also some of the highest paying and fastest growing in the U.S., according to Jaci Holmes, federal-state legislative liaison for the Maine Department of Education.

“STEM, in general, is probably the new wave of what the workforce is going to need,” Holmes said. “This is another tool to encourage students to pursue STEM skills, manage the cost of their education and evaluate opportunities to stay in Maine.”

From 2009-2011, the top 17 bachelor’s degrees in Maine were STEM-related, and “represent the highest wages of the bachelor’s candidates during that time,” she said.

This means that 1,764 out of 10,890 graduates during that three-year period are pursuing STEM careers “and are averaging wages between $43,824 and $63,034 a year,” for their first year, Holmes said, compared to the average wage for bachelor’s degrees statewide, which is $34,837.

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